I checked out the M-Audio Microtrack 24/96 today at my local Sam Ash. Looks like a nice unit, very small. I think it's overpriced at $400, maybe $250 is closer to what it should be worth. The definite downer for me is that it uses a proprietary Lithium-Ion battery. If you're in the field and you run out of batteries, then you're screwed unless you can recharge it (AC or USB). I'd prefer something that I can feed NiMH AA batteries into in a pinch. :-(
Replacing the LithiumIon will cost $75 + shipping, via Maudio. I do like the little mike they provide, although I wish it was built-in and not a separate unit as I know I'll forget to bring it to an interview if I got this unit. I have some further thoughts on other field recorders by Marantz and Edirol after the jump.
Marantz PMD660: OK, I investigated a bit further and the Marantz PMD660 looks really nice: http://www.d-mpro.com/users/folder.asp?FolderID=3629
It has a built-in mike (nothing to lose like the M-Audio); uses replaceable AA batteries (about 4 hours per set); has XLR mike inputs (yeah, if you use them). Street price is about $499.
The only problem is that unlike the M-Audio which can do 24-bit 96 khz recording (thus its name the M-Audio 2496), the Marantz can only do 16-bit 48 khz max in linear PCM mode. MP3 recording is limited to 128kbps which seems rather ... limited. I guess those specs are fine for my purposes since I'm not exactly recording a concert in the field, but I wish it was at least bumped up to 24/96 and 256kbps MP3.
There's an excellent review of the PMD660 here: http://www.transom.org/tools/recording_interviewing/200503.pmd660.html with audio samples. Looks like the built-in mike is pretty hissy. :-( Here's another (excellent) review done by a linguist at Michigan State University -- he's also down on the poor quality audio amps of the PMD660. Other blogger reviews here, here, here and here are also down on the Marantz. So I think the verdict is that it's a noble first try but Marantz needs to give us some more love for the money. There are some folks modding the PMD for better sound, check out this thread.
Edirol R-1: The samples on the Edirol R-1's manufacturer's home page sound amazingly good. Check the grand piano here: http://www.edirol.com/products/info/r1.html. If this is the case, wow, this is a definitely something to look into. But of course, all manfacturer's claims should be taken with a grain of salt. The R-1 has 24 bit / 44.1 khz recording. The battery life is about 2 hours with 2 AA batteries. The downside is that mike input is just 1/8" mini-phono jacks (plug-in power compatible).
TASCAM HD-P2: seems like the winner when it comes out. It even has SMPTE time code input. It's a bit bigger than I'd like but should be a fantastic field recorder with XLR mic inputs with phantom power, 24bit/192khz resolution, firewire, and S/PDIF digital I/O. Runs on 8 x AA batteries for 5.5 hours. Some preview articles are here and here with the official home page here. The MSRP appears to be $1299 with street at $999.... ouch.
I still haven't decided which one to get.